Fees for attorneys who represent claimants in workers’ compensation insurance cases would be capped at $150 an hour under a bill the Florida House considered Thursday.
Insurance & Banking Chairman Danny Burgess, a Zephyrhills Republican who is sponsoring the bill (HB 7009), told House members that the measure would help stave off workers’ compensation premium increases that, he said, will result in the next two years as a result of Florida Supreme Court opinions.
“We have an opportunity to be proactive,” Burgess said Thursday. “The crisis is still there.”
Business groups last year lobbied the Legislature to pass a workers’ compensation bill, arguing that premiums would otherwise increase because of a Supreme Court ruling that threw out strict caps on claimants’ attorney fees. Lawmakers didn’t pass a workers’ compensation bill, though, and premiums didn’t go up.
Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier in November approved a final order lowering premiums by nearly 10 percent.
“The case made to us was a classic, sky is falling,” Rep Sean Shaw, D-Tampa, said, reflecting on the 2017 session and the push to act. But Burgess said the nearly 10 percent reduction was the residual effect of sweeping changes the Legislature made to the workers’ compensation system in 2003.
Despite the reduction approved in 2017, Burgess reminded lawmakers that Altmaier approved a 14.5 percent increase in 2016. Moreover, he said a recent Judge of Compensation Claims report on attorney fees showed that more than $75 million in hourly fees were approved for claimants' attorneys in 2016-2017, a nearly 200 percent increase from the $25.8 million in hourly fees that were approved the previous year. The House is slated to vote on the bill Friday.